The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sued the United States government on the behalf of five photojournalists who allege their rights were violated ‘on multiple separate occasions’ while reporting on conditions at the US-Mexico border. According to the ACLU, the Department of Homeland Security made a database of journalists and photojournalists who were reporting on US-Mexico border conditions and used this database to target, detain, and interrogate them.
The lawsuit was filed on the behalf of Bing Guan, Go Nakamura, Mark Abramson, Kitra Cahana and Ariana Drehsler, all of whom are professional photojournalists and U.S. citizens, according to the ACLU. The lawsuit alleges these individuals were among the journalists included in Homeland Security’s secret database.
The database allegedly contained the photojournalists’ names, birth dates, headshots, and information about whether they’d been interrogated. An ‘X’ was allegedly used to cross out the individuals who had already been interrogated, indicating that the ‘random’ secondary screenings and interrogations they were subjected to weren’t actually random.
Bing Guan said in a statement to the ACLU:
‘I was being targeted by my own government for reporting on conditions at the border.‘
The ACLU explains that photojournalists were detained when they attempted to reenter the United States, at which point they were allegedly interrogated about various matters ranging from their observations of the condition of the border and shelters to whether they could identify people from a series of headshots. Multiple photojournalists claim they were forced to reveal the images they had taken and that at least one officer had used a phone to snap images of the photos.
Forcing the photojournalists to disclose details about their sources and observations was a violation of the First Amendment, according to the ACLU, which calls the ‘disturbing actions’ a potential deterrent that may prevent other journalists from pursuing similar work.
The ACLU said in its announcement of the lawsuit:
‘That the government’s actions occurred at the border makes them no less unlawful … When the government tries to circumvent constitutional protections, we must hold it accountable. No journalist should have to fear government interference for having the persistence, courage, and commitment to expose the truth.’
The lawsuit can be read in full on the ACLU’s website. Plaintiffs seek an official declaration that their First Amendment rights were violated; they also want the records related to their interrogations to be expunged and more.